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It Was Forty Years Ago Today: Prince’s First Ever Live Concert

Sometimes it snows in April, but thankfully Paisley Park, the gargantuan estate complex in Chanhassen, Minneapolis where Prince lived, worked and died, is now a permanent memorial to the Purple One’s incomparable creativity all year round. In October 2018, I was beyond excited to visit Paisley Park on a whistle stop tour through the United States.

Being able to nosey around the legendary Studio B where he recorded Sign O’ The Times and countless others was an honour I’m still pinching myself about. Quietly thrilling, exciting and deeply moving, I’m already looking forward to a return visit. And yes, I could see where that elevator has been boarded up, but you’re not supposed to know that.

It was a fabulous way to celebrate all the moments of genius, controversy, sexy and cool the superstar packed into the last four decades.

Forty years ago is also an important milestone in Prince’s long and eminently prolific career. It was the dawn of 1979: Sony Walkmans suddenly gave us a portable soundtrack to life and Blondie, the Bee Gees, Barbra Streisand and, er, Boney M were the popular artists of choice. But something else was happening, something bigger than anyone could have anticipated.

The world was about to meet an artist that would definitely be known as Prince for the very first time.

Because he had been signed to Warner Bros. on the strength of his one-man band demos, Prince Rodgers Nelson didn’t take the traditional route to stardom by building a local following in clubs and building word-of-mouth, perfecting his stage presence while woodshedding the songs. Although he had played in the cover band Grand Central while in school, he had not booked a single gig under his own name by the time he released his 1978 debut For You. That, however, was about to change.

Warners wanted to see him onstage to determine if the instrumental skills that dazzled them on tape could translate to a live setting. So Prince booked the Capri Theater in North Minneapolis for three nights, January 5-7, 1979, the first time he played live since leaving Grand Central three years earlier. The opening night was a warm-up gig and the executives would come to the second night.

Prince with guitarist Dez Dickerson in his first public concert at the Capri Theater on January 5, 1979 in Minneapolis, MN. Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

The date: January 5th, 1979.

The venue: Capri Theatre, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

The band: Prince (vox, guitar, drums, bass, keys), Bobby Z. (drums), André Cymone (bass), Dez Dickerson (guitar), Matt Fink (keys), Gayle Chapman (keys)

Tickets: just $4 

Promotion was a family affair, according to singer Kristie Lazenberry in Dave Hill’s Prince, A Pop Life: “We made the tickets, we sold them, we even did the door. We were the security too!” So, for that matter, was attendance: of the venue’s 507 seats, only about 300 were occupied–the vast majority of which, according to biographer Liz Jones, were taken by “former school friends, musicians, cousins”

Starting at 8 pm, the 60-minute extravaganza must have been a busy night for the soon to be Purple One. If the records are correct, the set included his debut single Soft And Wet, For You, and closing with his then-recently-released second single Just As Long As We’re Together, with the prolific and excessively talented multi-instrumentalist making his extraordinary abilities clear right from the start, playing every instrument on stage. What an entrance.

A local lad, born and raised in Minneapolis, Prince’s passion and talent for music were obvious from a young age when he penned his first song at seven. He was signing record deals by the age of 17, and never looked back.

His prominently explicit lyrics may have inspired a parental crusade in the name of political correctness, but his blending of funk, dance, and rock music, matched with his inexplicable, extraterrestrial talent was about to reinvent the meaning of the term ‘Pop Star’ in ways no one could have ever imagined.

So, on this day, let’s take a minute to celebrate the dazzling debut of Prince – 40 years since the rulebook of stardom was thrown out the window and, “our first post-everything pop star” (thank you, LA Times) arrived.

Long may he reign.

Steve Pafford


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